August 7th – Overnight to Vienna
We were due to hop on a train at 7:12 in the evening. While it seemed good that we’d have all day in Rome to do whatever we wanted, there were a few practical problems that we didn’t think about ahead of time.
(1) It was horribly, uncomfortably hot out.
(2) We had to check out of our room at 11:00am, with all of our bags
Problem two we could deal with – storing bags at the train station wasn’t cheap, but we could do it and still go out and see stuff if we wanted. Problem one left us few options. We were already soaked in sweat just getting to the station, and we were about to board a 13 hour long overnight train where we didn’t have the option to shower. Even without our bags, going out to do anything would have left us feeling disgusting, and we probably would have killed our host in Vienna with our stink.
So we sat in the train station. Not the best way to spend a day, but we avoided the heat, and Roma Termini is a large station full of shops and restaurants so we were able to wander around and occupy ourselves before getting on the train. Needless to say we were ready to go when just before 7:00 our train’s platform assignment popped up on the departure screens.
This was our first overnight train of the trip, so it was kind of fun getting on and being welcomed to our little mobile hotel room with small bottles of wine and water, and washcloths to clean up with in our tiny sink. The train was unbearably hot until we finally started moving and the air conditioning turned on. They came by and gave us little fruit cups, which – yay fruit! – but turn on the frigging AC.
We spent the evening on the train eating junk food and drinking wine, watching as our last views of the Italian countryside passed into darkness. Our gruff Austrian cabin steward came by to turn our beds down around 11, and we got what sleep we could. Between the shaking of the train as it passed through the Italian-Austrian border, and the constant rattling of tracks and creaking of the cabin, even a sleeper car offered only slightly better rest than you might get on a plane.
August 8th – Vienna
In the morning, we woke up to announcements of upcoming stations. We were brought a breakfast of coffee, juice, bread rolls, a couple slices of meat, and some yogurt. The train made a stop at one station that didn’t look like ours, so after we stayed on, we looked around anxiously hoping that we had made the right choice. It didn’t help that our train was running late. Finally at almost 9 am, thirty minutes after we were supposed to arrive, we saw WIEN MEIDLING signs approaching. The Latin portion of the trip was over, and the Germanic adventure had begun.
The public transport system in Vienna, while extensive, is a mess to decipher at first. A mix of underground, tram, and bus lines lay over the city. The subway actually leaves from a train station platform, not a separate subway stop. Weird. It took us a while to figure that one out. We took a line to what we thought would be close to our apartment, got out, and had no idea which direction to go. Thankfully as we stood there turning a map over and looking around, an older man walked up to us and asked us where we were going. He was an Austrian guy on his way to a doctors appointment, but was apparently going the same direction as us, so he actually walked us down and got us onto another subway line, rode the train with us for a couple of stops and then pointed us in the right direction. He spoke English like an Australian and talked about his extensive travels in southeast Asia.
Only an hour late, we found the buzzer for our apartment and we soon ushered up by Leo, a Ukrainian born, American immigrant, now living in Austria for school. We were sharing his place for two nights and he ended up being an extremely nice host. The apartment was simple, but just outside the city center and right down the street from a supermarket.
We were tired and hadn’t showered in over 24 hours, so first order of business was a nap and a bath. After that, we ventured out into Vienna’s inner city.
Why Vienna? Honestly, we knew nothing about this city when planning the trip. It just looked like a direct route between Italy and Prague. Walking around the inner city, we quickly remembered that Vienna was once the capital of a little thing called the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It had all the fancy buildings you’d expect from an imperial center. In notable contrast to many places we’d been in Italy… it was clean. You could eat off of these streets.
We walked by St. Stephen’s cathedral, the Hofburg, saw the Rathaus, saw many of the museums in the area. We walked through a park near the Hofburg where a lady let out the most insane belch imaginable, right as we walked by. Eww… Maybe Austria isn’t so clean…
After taking in our loop around the city center, we stopped by the grocery store for lunch food before heading to the room to chill out. Between being tired and it being 100 degrees outside, we both needed a nap.
We woke up in the evening and tried to come up with something to do. Food being first on Jenny’s mind, she looked up Anthony Bourdain online and he had done a No Reservations show in Vienna. We lounged in bed watching a guy with the best job in the world drink and eat his way through the city. Afterwards we were inspired to venture back into the city center to find a place to get some beer and sausage. Stands selling all manner of sausages are plentiful in the city, so before long we had a couple of beers and plates of cheese sausage and bratwurst sitting in front of us. Yes, it was delicious. Passing on the ever pervasive gelato, we found a frozen yogurt shop and got some froyo for the first time since Madrid.
Full of meat, beer, and sweets, we made our way back to the apartment to call it a night.
August 9th – Shonbrunn Palace
After a slow breakfast and some good conversation with our host, the goal for the 9th was to visit Shonbrunn Palace, the summer home of the empirial family. Shonbrunn is often called a “Little Versaille” due to the similar layout of the house and extensive gardens. That comparison is fairly accurate. Shonbrunn and the gardens are impressive, but not on the same scale or level of gilded ostentation as Versaille.
Entrances to the palace are timed so that you buy a ticket for a specific entrance time. Ours gave us over an hour to explore the gardens. Open to the public, the gardens are full of rows of sculpted trees and are dotted with sculptures and fountains. Unlike the previous 100 degree day, rain was moving in and our time in the gardens here were totally pleasant.
Inside the palace is a basic tour of the rooms, largely focusing on their use by Franz Josef and his wife Sisi. We had seen Sisi’s summer home, the Achilleon Palace, at our stop in Corfu, Greece. Unfortunately – no pictures allowed inside the palace.
Later that evening, we headed out to find a restaurant recommended by Leo. He had given us directions – walk to underground station, take one line to a stop, get off and transfer to a different line. Or was that line a bus? Or a tram? We had no idea. We spent a good 15 minutes walking around an intersecting stop of several tram/bus/underground lines and never found what we were looking for. Jenny got directions from a newspaper seller… which made no sense at all.
So we walked. Maybe 45 minutes later was found the restaurant, Fischerbrau. It ended up being worth the wait. We drank local beer and ate goulasch and a plate of mixed meats. We were finishing up our plate of fried apples with mixed berry sauce when the rain that had been threatening all day finally started coming down. With full bellies we headed in the direction of a subway stop a couple blocks away that took us directly back to our apartment. If we’d only known that there was any easy, direct way to get there in the first place. Our rainy run home was our last outing in Vienna before leaving for Prague in the morning.